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Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars: Heart Beat



Through the years Bill O’Connell reading of Latin-Jazz has been characterised as music that is typically measured and full-bodied, freighted with meaning. This recording Heart-Beat is no less outstanding. Its entire repertoire is pleasingly clean and immediate, which makes it all very robust, and thanks to the presence of Román Díaz and Melvis Santa, rhythmically and spiritually superb. O’Connell’s burgeoning relationship with the dashing and prodigiously-gifted members of the Latin Jazz All-Stars also comes into the mix that makes this disc wholly memorable. The superlative accounts of his original compositions as well as the Jobim and the Shorter pieces are trenchant and clear-sighted and in places that glow white hot.

Bill O’Connell’s pianism has always been informed of good rhythm, clean articulation and phrasing which is as affectionate as it is unfussy. And although the idiom demands lusty clave one must never lose sight of O’Connell’s graceful dynamics and expression which is sublimely succinct in slow movements. His delicate phrasing is always memorable and full of surprise. This gives his lines dynamism and twists and turns that dart and swerve like happy ferrets that have been set free and into the wild again. O’Connell’s sense of melody is flawless and he makes songs that are lyrical, buoyant and engagingly genteel. Engagement and imagination are of a consistently high standard while whirring tempos between choruses suggest a robust playing that is quite brilliant.

This disc is adorned by beautiful playing on the part of trombonist Conrad Herwig and saxophonist Steve Slagle, who bump and grind with the pianist creating wonderful images and stories around Bill O’Connell’s masterful arrangements. Bassist Luques Curtis, now a senior citizen in the Jazz citadel, not only anchors the rhythm section – which also includes drummer Richie Barshay, Díaz and batá drummers Clements Medina and Diego López – but he plays a leading harmonic role and is especially magnificent in his short and pungent solos. Díaz is a master of Afro-Cuban Santeria and he brings the gravitas of his chants and vocals to several pieces here. His presence is particularly dramatic on Peace On Earth, a song that seems to have been conceived with him in mind.

Bill O’Connell continues to be in the springtime of his career and his last few recordings are wonderful testaments to a gift for composition and performance. With Heart-Beat O’Connell seems to be getting in touch with his spiritual centre of gravity. More of this extraordinary music is still to come and it is likely that O’Connell will continue to reside in this soulful place. Latin Jazz is richer for his contributions as he continues to add volumes to the literature of the earthy dialect.

Track List: Vertigo; The Eyes of a Child; Awani; Waters of March; Tabasco; ESP: Heart-Beat; Wake Up; Peace on Earth.

Personnel: Bill O’Connell: piano; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Steve Slagle: soprano (1, 4, 7), alto (3, 6, 8, 9) saxophones and flute (2, 5); Luques: bass; Richie Barshay: drums; Román Díaz: congas, percussion, batá drums (2, 9) and vocal (9); Melvis Santa: vocal (3, 6, 9); Clemente Medina: batá drums (2, 9); Diego López: batá drums (2, 9).

Released – February 2016
Label – Savant Records
Runtime – 56:40

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá



Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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